As 2018 draws to a close, paNOW is taking a look back on the most important and impactful stories of the year, as selected by our reporters and editorial staff.
The acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley in February, sparked months of emotional protests across the country, and prompted discussion on amendments to the province's trespassing laws.
Stanley was charged with second degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie in 2016. Boushie was one of five young people who drove onto Stanley's farm near Biggar. His friends testified they were looking for help with a flat tire. Stanley testified he thought they were trying to steal an all-terrain vehicle. He said he fired warning shots to scare them away and a hang fire shot Boushie when he went to pull the keys from their SUV.
Debbie Baptiste, Boushie's mother, was seen wailing and sobbing uncontrollably outside Court of Queen’s Bench in Battleford after the trial. Boushie’s cousin Jade Tootoosis spoke on behalf of the family to the media.
“There was no justice served here today,” she said. “We hoped for justice for Colten. However, we did not see it. We did not feel it throughout this entire process."
The Boushie family was dealt another blow soon after upon hearing the Crown had no plans to appeal. The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) issued a statement, saying they were angered by the decision. Months of protests took place in all corners of the country, as well as a U.N forum in New York, as supporters of the Boushie family made a plea for justice. The atmosphere was particularly charged at a rally in North Battleford, where the victim's mother delivered an angry, defiant address near the courthouse where the verdict was delivered.
"White people — they run the court system. Enough. We're going to fight back," Debbie Baptiste told a crowd of roughly 100 people, some of whom carried signs reading Indigenous Lives Matter. "They're not sweeping us under the carpet. Enough killing our people. We fight back."
Gerald Stanley also received support. A GoFundMe page to assist the Stanley family with legal fees raised over $80,000. Mark Pashovitz, a farmer who donated to the cause, said farmers like himself were fed up with the amount of property crime, adding Stanley was "a victim of a situation that was totally out of his control."
"There was no respect for him or his property," he said. "It could have been me."
As emotions began to boil over, police were forced to step in and announced they would be monitoring social media, and charges would be laid for hateful comments.
Boushie family files lawsuit
By August, emotions were still quite raw across the country. The Boushie family announced they would be suing Gerald Stanley and the RCMP. The lawsuit filed against Stanley by Boushie’s family claimed the Red Pheasant man’s death was a result of Stanley’s “negligent, reckless or intentional acts. ”The statement of claim also alleged Stanley’s wife Leesa didn’t try to help Boushie after the shooting. The lawsuit, which is still before the courts, seeks $30,000 in damages to be paid directly to Baptiste, $20,000 in funeral expenses, $60,000 in grief counselling, $60,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, $100,000 in lost employment earnings for Baptiste, and $200,000 in “aggravated, exemplary and punitive damages to be proven at trial." A separate court filing by the family is also calling for $1.45 million in damages to be paid by members of the RCMP. The lawsuit lists seven RCMP officers as defendants, along with the Attorney General of Canada, and alleges they conducted an “unlawful search” of Baptiste’s home the night of Boushie’s shooting.
Stanley book rejected by publishers
At the peak of the emotional unrest, news came out Gerald Stanley had plans to write a book to tell his side of the story. Publishing company, Between the Lines (BTL), openly rejected the book and encouraged other publishers to do the same.
The company said to publish, promote or market Stanley’s story would contribute to the injustices experienced by the Boushie family. A poll question run by paNOW, asked respondents if they would like to see the book. Over 7,500 people voted yes while 620 said no.
Province to amend trespassing laws
Concerns around property crime were at the centre of the Gerald Stanley trial. In the months following the court case, concerns and anger amongst rural property owners became louder and the province responded. After discussion with a number of agencies and groups including the FSIN and Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, amendments were proposed to the province's trespassing laws, shifting the onus of responsibility from land owners to people looking to enter their property.
“Our goal at this point in time is protecting land owners, not necessarily protecting the rights of someone who wants to come onto the land,” Justice Minister Don Morgan said.
Anyone including hunters and snowmobilers will require prior permission from the property owner or face a fine if caught trespassing. The bill is expected to pass sometime next year.
On Twitter: @nigelmaxwell
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